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August 14, 2005

Spaghetti breakage

Via, we learn that the American Physical Society is going to publish an article explaining why spaghetti won't simply break in two. Just in case you don't subscribe, here's an abstract:

Why Does Spaghetti Break into More than Two Pieces?
B. Audoly and S. Neukirch
Phys. Rev. Lett. (upcoming article)

When dry spaghetti snaps, it usually breaks into several fragments, not just two equal pieces. Pasta-eaters and scientists alike have been puzzled by this, but now researchers at the CNRS/Universite Paris VI in France have explained the phenomenon. They experimented with several different thicknesses of dry spaghetti, which they clamped at one end, then bent and suddenly released, causing the strand to break. According to their analysis, after release, the rod's curvature initially increases near the just-released end. Then a wave travels along the pasta. The first break occurs somewhere along the rod when the curvature exceeds a critical limit. The shock of the initial break then causes more bending waves to travel along the two newly formed pieces of the spaghetti, where they locally increase the curvature further and cause more breaks, leading to a cascade of cracks.
I can't resist pointing out that "Cascade of Cracks" would be an excellent name for a rock band. Or perhaps a political party.